4 Writing Tips from a Published Author

May 10, 2022 6 min read

 

There is something innate within all aspiring writers and novelists who feel unable to say "I’m a writer" until something is published. The fact is, if you’re writing, you’re already a writer.

Battling that inner imposter is a daily struggle for most of us. It seems so hard to attribute that job title to yourself because it makes you feel vulnerable, perhaps even arrogant, and invites immediate judgement.

You can’t go around saying you’re a brain surgeon and then start operating on people, but writing is different. Writing rarely—unless you’re incredibly fortunate—becomes your day job for many years. But it is the most wonderful, Herculean achievement not only to be able to write, but to finish a novel.

Ahead of my debut being published on June 9th, I am often asked what advice I would give to others embarking on the writing journey. My pearls of wisdom are borne of my own experience and from the established authors who have generously dispensed their own precious knowledge. But it is different for everybody and there are no hard and fast rules.

My first tip is simply...

1. Write Daily

Easy to say, hard to do when the blank page is glowing brightly at you, burning holes in your retina. But once you start with an idea or a story, you’ve taken your first steps into a brave new world. If you carve out dedicated time daily, you will slowly but surely find a rhythm that suits you.

I set my alarm early and write for a couple of hours in the weekday mornings (almost) without fail, then tinker at my leisure at the weekends. I need that kind of structure, otherwise I will procrastinate, stare at the colour of the walls and create a mood board to redecorate the house instead. 

Many people say you have to get X amount of words down per day, but for me it depends on my mood or where I am in my draft. If I’m at a dramatic or climactic part of the novel, I will keep going until my day job starts and then pick up when I’ve clocked off. On those particular days, the word count can be numbers I long for on the trickier days.

The point is to write something each day and you will make progress without addling your brain and burning out.

Other mornings, I re-read what I’ve done the day before or write character notes, plot ideas and think about the full arc of the story over endless pots of coffee.

Which brings me onto my next tip...

2. Get into the Habit of Plotting

I am not a natural plotter much to my husband’s bafflement. He is a journalist and writer and cannot put pen to paper before having the whole thing mapped out.

When I was writing One Last Letter From Greece, I didn’t have an agent until I was three quarters of the way through my first draft, so I could merrily amble along where my characters led me, freely enjoying the story-telling process.

There were several moments, though, when I was stuck with the story because I hadn’t plotted where it was headed, which led to much angst-ridden wrangling and heated, exasperated conversations with my husband. It was almost tempting to give up. I got there eventually but it may have been the long way around, although I have no personal benchmark…yet. 

Want advanced tips for boosting creative confidence, reducing distractions, and overcoming writer's block? Book a 1-on-1 consultation with Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.

However, writing book two, which is part of my publishing contract, in order to save myself as much pain as possible, I had a beginning, middle and end before I started. But the 20,000 word wall is real for both books I’ve written.

To help, I started to plot five chapters ahead as I went along, keeping in mind the arc of the story. I found that saved me a world of agony.

That’s not to say I didn’t deviate from my best laid plan, but it gave me a structure which I respond well to.

The other colossal difference with book two is the added pressure of a publisher’s deadline, which is as motivating as it is terrifying.

3. Find Community

You are not alone. Social media has a bad reputation and rightly so in many cases, but the writing community, especially on Twitter, is spectacular. It is filled with writers at various stages of their process and many established authors are happy to dispense brilliant advice to their readers and hopeful writers.

Agents and publishers often hold hashtag question sessions too, which can be helpful if you don’t know where to start with finding a home for your work. 

The battle with imposter syndrome is real.

One of my friends who has sold millions of children’s books internationally still has it 24 novels in. When I was panicking about whether I could write a second novel, she said to me, “Now you’re in my world. Before I start my next book, I always work out how I can pay back the advance if it doesn’t go well. It happens every time, get used to it!” It brings a little comfort to know everyone endures such self-doubt. 

A further nugget from another novelist chum who is writing her tenth, is to keep a writing journal, so you can remind yourself that you will get through it. I mentioned the 20k word wall, which can be 30k for some.

Then the halfway point panic, Is there enough story here to write the same amount again? And all those other pesky questions that plague your mind each time you start a new draft. It's likely you’ve experienced them before. With this journal you have a readymade reference point of reassurance. This is a brilliant idea and one I plan to adopt for book three… when I get through book two!

4. Use Inspirational Tools to Immerse Yourself in Your Story

Wherever you write, whether it’s at home, a communal public place or even the beach, have a mood board, a play list or a candle to create your scribbling sanctuary wherever you roam. Fill a notebook with photos and quotes, taking it everywhere you go. Make it the bible for your book, so that when you open it, you are instantly immersed in the setting for your story. 

I compile mood boards, collages of pictures that put me straight into the world I am creating.

I work from home anyway and my little home office is divided in two. Half is taken up with files and grown-up spreadsheets pinned to a cork board for my actual job, and the other is strewn with evocative pictures, post it notes and photographs of trips to Greece that inspire me. I can turn away from the serious part of the room, light a candle and transport myself to the little Greek village where my next book is set.

The old adage of "write what you know" is true but writing what youfeel is critical.

Our responses to stories are similar to our responses to music: entirely subjective. Not everyone loves to read everything Margaret Atwood writes nor can listen to Leonard Cohen for hours.

That said, you want to have an emotional reaction from your reader. Whether it’s tears, joy or laughter, the goal is for your story to linger in the mind and that comes from emotion and feelings.

Bring your characters to three-dimensional life, bother your friends for their own experiences, call out on Twitter for anecdotes and take those morsels to weave into your story for authenticity.

Find your voice, a point of view and write those stories floating around your mind that are burning to get out. Believe you will find the agent and publisher who will champion your writing, having as much faith in you as you would wish to have in yourself.

It doesn’t make the feeling of being an imposter disappear, but it does give you the confidence to move forward through the exhausting and thrilling process of writing a novel.

No part of writing fiction is easy, nor is it quick, but the rollercoaster journey is unique to the individual. The only universal part is querying for an agent and being out on submission—those are both equally gut-wrenching and anxiety provoking. I refreshed my emails so many times I’m certain I got repetitive strain injury!

But the more you write, the better you become at honing your craft—at least that’s the hope. And what are we writers without hope, right?

About the Author

Emma Cowell is the author of One Last Letter From Greece,to be published by Harper Collins, Avon on June 9th 2022 in e-book and paperback in all English speaking territories, except the US. In the US, One Last Letter From Greece will be published in e-book format on June 9th, and in paperback on November 22nd.

Connect with Emma Cowell on social media and on herwebsite.

Want advanced tips for boosting creative confidence, reducing distractions, and overcoming writer's block? Book a 1-on-1 consultation with Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.

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